Syriac Orthodox Church celebrates Palm Sunday with Hosanna Service and unique Nahire prayer ritual

BETH NAHRIN — On Sunday, 9 April 2023, Christian Churches following the Julian calendar celebrated Palm Sunday. Palm Sunday is an important Christian festival commemorating the entry of Jesus Christ into Jerusalem and marks the beginning of Holy Week, the week leading up to Easter Sunday. It is celebrated by Christians all over the world in different ways, with each denomination having its own unique traditions and customs.

The Syriac Orthodox Church is one of the oldest Christian denominations in the world, with its roots tracing back to the ancient city of Antioch in modern-day Turkey. The Church is known for its rich liturgical traditions, which have been preserved over centuries and handed down from generation to generation.

In the Syriac Orthodox Church, Palm Sunday is celebrated with great enthusiasm and reverence. The day is also known as Hosanna Sunday, which is derived from the Hebrew word “hoshianna”, which means “save us”. The day marks the triumphal entry of Jesus into Jerusalem, where he was welcomed by the people with palm leaves and shouts of Hosanna.

Syriac Orthodox Patriarch Mor Ignatius Aphrem II during the Hosanna Service at St. Georges Patriarchal Cathedral in Bab Touma, Daramsuq (Damascus), Syria, on Palm Sunday, 9 April 2023.

On Palm Sunday, the Syriac Orthodox Church holds a special liturgy, which is known as the Hosanna Service. The service starts with a procession, where the clergy and the congregation carry palm branches and olive branches, singing hymns of praise and thanksgiving. The procession represents Jesus’ triumphal entry into Jerusalem, where the people welcomed him with palm branches and olive branches.

After the procession, the clergy and the congregation enter the church, where the Hosanna Service is held. The highlight of the service is the reading of the Gospel account of Jesus’ entry into Jerusalem, where the congregation responds with shouts of Hosanna.

In the Syriac Orthodox Church, the palm branches used on Palm Sunday are considered sacred and are often kept in homes as a symbol of protection and blessing. The branches are also used to decorate the church during Holy Week.

In the evening on Palm Sunday, the Service of Nahire — also called the Feast of Lights or the Entrance to Heaven Service — is held. It is a ritual unique to the Syriac Orthodox Church.

Syriac Orthodox Patriarch Mor Ignatius Aphrem II during the Service of Nahire (the Feast of Lights) at St. Georges Patriarchal Cathedral in Bab Touma, Daramsuq (Damascus), Syria, on Palm Sunday, 9 April 2023.

The service focuses on the Parable of the Ten Virgins, which Jesus told to explain the need for constant preparedness to enter Heaven. Syriac prayers that recount the story are recited while the church lights are turned off, only candles held by the congregation provide illumination. The priest, deacons, and altar boys deliver the sermon by the pews because the altar is closed. The sermon concludes with the priest shouting thrice, “Moran, Moran ftah lan tar3okh” (O Lord, O Lord, open Thy door for us), which prompts the church lights to be turned on and the curtain to be opened.

Nahire means “light” in Syriac, and the idea behind the practice is that by inviting Jesus into one’s heart, one will be shown the light and accepted into heaven through his grace.

One of the prayers chanted is Btarcokh Moran Noqeshno (At Your door, O Lord, I knock):

At Your door, O Lord, I knock, 

And from Your treasury I ask for mercies. 

I am a constant sinner and have turned aside from Your way. 

Grant me to confess and renounce my sins, 

And to live in Your grace. 

At whose door, other than Yours, 

Shall we knock, O Gracious Lord? 

Whom do we have to plead with You on behalf of our transgressions, 

If Your own mercy pleads not? 

O King, Whom the kings worship and glorify.